Early one morning: Of flowers, Federer and Wimbledon’s waking hours
Wimbledon is over for another year, and Marianne Bevis reflects on her enduring memories from 20 days of SW19 action
And so the readjustment begins.
After 20 days of too-early sunrises, of racing the London commute that begins its snaking journey east soon after six, of cursing the Hogarth roundabout but breathing in the Thames from the green and gold of Hammersmith Bridge, of measuring the weary drift of ‘The Queue’ alongside Church Road, and on to the daily ritual of bag checks… after 20 days, the rhythm and routine of the Wimbledon Championships are over.
But while the tennis is over, the trophies given, and the whites packed away, this mind and body has still to recalibrate from those 20 caffeine and adrenalin-fuelled days and nights.
Was it really two weeks ago that 15 British men and women—the most since 2006—took up their places in the singles draws?
Is it really two weeks since Marcus ‘fairytale’ Willis, ranked No772, played six rounds of qualifying, won his first ever main-tour match, and set up a Round 2 contest with Roger Federer?
Was it two weeks ago that the rain began to blast such a hole in the schedule that Wimbledon opened on middle Sunday for only the fourth time in its history?
Was it just 10 days back that teenage Sascha Zverev reached the third round for the first time, or that Juan Martin del Potro, playing at Wimbledon for the first time in three years, also reached the third round via No4 seed Stan Wawrinka, or that defending champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic made a shock third-round exit?
Then there were the super sisters, 34-year-old Serena and 36-year-old Venus Williams, who already owned 11 Wimbledon singles titles between them and five together. By second Thursday, both had reached the singles semi-finals. By Saturday, Serena had won the singles title and the two had won the doubles title.
And could there have been a more memorable final Sunday? Two of the 15 Britons, Andy Murray and Heather Watson, had titles, and three more British champions were crowned in wheelchair tennis: Alfie Hewett, Gordon Reid and Jordanne Whiley.
When each reflects on the 130th Championships, each will take away their own enduring memories: The support of the crowds; the pin-drop silence during points; the absence of razzmatazz before each match; or perhaps that one perfect shot that will forever make the highlights reels.
Some will rest, some will lick their wounds, some will head straight back to work, inspired to still greater ambitions.
But for others, those with neither matches nor ovations to treasure, it is other moments that endure, those quiet, early moments at one of the most beautiful places in the sporting world.
The crisp hours when the sun slants low between billowing clouds, when young men and women, dressed in the Club’s green and purple, dust down chairs and fences, and mop the famous marble-floored entrance.
The unheralded hours when gardeners water every bed, basket and trough before, inch by slow inch, picking through the purple flowers and green foliage for any sign of wilt or tiredness.
For only those colours and only that perfection will do: Never forget, you imagine them saying, this may be the first and only time a visitor sees Wimbledon in all its glory. And even a pair of patrolling policemen cannot resist the urge to pull out a mobile for a photo of the scene.
Slowly, slowly, the clusters of ground staff begin to put up the nets in a ritual that begins around 9.30am and spreads by osmosis from one rectangle of green to the next. Because this pristine turf will not feel the pad of a player’s feet before 10… no matter whose feet they may be.
Now, though, the lightest of them, the feet of seven-time champion Federer, amble into view through these quiet walkways for a 20-minute, oh-so-casual warm-up in preparation for his 1pm match.
During the height of the day, it is very different: A phalanx of security staff has to ease Federer or Murray to practice. But it is easy to forget that, just like Wimbledon itself, this may be for many, the first and only time they catch a glimpse of a hero.
The early practice, though, is the privilege of a few—ground staff, ball kids, photographers, and the occasional journalist. So it is an intimate affair, made more so by the unique hush of grass, the quiet movement of the Swiss, and a respect for the occasion.
Then comes a bigger man, the heavier-limbed, huge-hitting Milos Raonic, and his power and intensity are as impressive at close quarters as is Federer’s elegant precision. A few hours later, the same two men, with their contrasting styles, will create drama on Centre Court.
The clock ticks towards opening time, and Federer jogs away, up the laundry-scented steps to the locker room, while Raonic lingers till the crowds begin to gather, and the early risers—we happy few—drift back to our posts.
Twenty days of thrills and spills, thunder and lightning, people’s Sunday and manic Monday, records broken and dramas completed.
But the early mornings? There was something magical about those too.